Gdańsk in its heyday was a bustling summer destination and the place to head to, along with neighbouring Sopot. These days, while summer flights head south, Gdańsk is still an excellent choice for a long weekend. Situated on the Baltic Sea, it has an air of grandeur with its beautiful architecture and cobbled streets. Despite the aged look of the place, much of Gdańsk was rebuilt after the Second World War saw it reduced to rubble. For those with an inclination to head somewhere steeped in history, this would make an excellent choice.
Whilst, in the suburbs, Gdańsk is an interesting throwback to the Eastern Bloc with long, faceless streets of Soviet architecture, much of its charm lies in the tall, Dutch-style houses and cobbled roads that spread out from Długi Targ, or “Long Market”. There is a convivial, continental atmosphere here, with the restaurants and cafés sporting outside seating (complete with heaters and blankets later in the year). Once you’ve passed through Długi Targ, a string of restaurants snakes alongside the waterfront, from which run regular ferry rides.
Much of the food in Gdańsk is traditional Polish fare – not to be missed is the lard and bread sold everywhere as a snack. Think of it as the Polish equivalent of a packet of crisps with your two pints of lager.
Gdański Bowke is located on the waterfront overlooking the small port for the tourist ferries and frequently has live music. The menu is reasonably priced and traditional – from slow cooked ham hock to melt-in-the-mouth pork ribs with potato dumplings. We recommend trying the local liqueur called Goldwasser. This is a sweetly spiced aperitif with floating flakes of gold, and is particularly moreish.
Another “must” is Nalesnikowo, home of the world’s most ridiculously rich pancakes. Alongside standards such as chocolate and banana, you can order a spaghetti Bolognese crêpe. Calorific heaven.
Ferries run several times a day to Westerplatte, which saw the first action of the Second World War in Europe. This is a diverting day trip with a number of Soviet and post-independence memorials, and information about the War and the role of Westerplatte and Poland. Make sure to check the ferry times back as buses run infrequently and it will be a long and pricey taxi ride if you get stranded.
Gdańsk was the cradle of the Solidarność movement, founded by Lech Wałęsa (who later became president of Poland) in 1980. The European Solidarity Centre and the memorials nearby are, therefore, a must-see and chart Poland’s long and difficult journey to democracy.
The Gdańsk skyline is dominated by the rising red brick spire of St Mary’s Church, built in 1379. For a small fee, it’s possible to climb its spire and stand on the small parapet at the top. Unlike the sanitised stairs in some churches, this is a climb through a narrow spiral staircase, and a big looping walkway round the bell before you emerge from a rickety metal ladder at the top of the city. Well worth the exertion and a good excuse for more Goldwasser afterwards!
WORDS: BETHAN FORBES
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